The Syro-Malabar church mouthpiece ‘Laity Voice’ on Sunday rejected Union minister Jairam Ramesh’s demand to tender an apology and reiterated its charge that the minister served as an advisory board member of the NGO ‘Atree.’
The minister had said in Delhi on Saturday that he would take legal action against the editor of the journal that alleged he was a board member of the NGO Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (Atree). It also alleged that the NGO received crores of rupees as foreign aid under the pretext of protecting Western Ghats. The minster had given two weeks time to withdraw the report and offer an apology.
However editor-in chief of the e-journal VC Sebastian said there was no question of withdrawing the statement that the minister was a board member of Atree from 2004. “We stick to our stand. But if the minister has anything to say we will publish his version in our journal,” he said.
Ramesh, who was the environment minister, had appointed the Gadgil committee two years ago to study the ecological conditions of the Ghats and recommended stringent measures to protect the UNESCO heritage. Both Gadgil panel and subsequent Kasturirangagan committee, a toned version of the earlier report, had triggered widespread protest in high-range areas of the state.
The powerful Syro-Malabar church was in the forefront of agitation that turned violent on many occasions. Majority of the ecologically sensitive areas come under Christian belt. When the country was facing acute food shortage after independence, Christian settlers were encouraged to move to fringe areas of the forest under the ‘grow more food campaign. Now the church fears that believers would be evicted in the name of ecology.